Stewart Hotston

Hope, Anger and Writing




As promised earlier this week, please find attached a 1,500 word sample for a new novel that’s completely unconnected to the world of Helena Woolf and the Oligarchs.

The novel is provisionally titled ‘Dreams of Darkness’ and stands alone. It’s currently with Ian Whates at NewCon Press, although he’s yet to read it, so there’s no guarantee at all that he’ll a) like it and b) want to publish it. However, Ian has carved out an amazing business in publishing superb stories, so regardless of my involvement you should seek him out and read the people he publishes cos he has a great sense of out of the ordinary writers.

The story asks the question, ‘what if all our myths were true,’ and then says, but if that’s the case, how is it we have the world we have today where science appears to rule and magic, mystery and legends are footnotes in history books.

The sample takes place very near the beginning and features one of the three main characters, a Fae called Maela from one of the Seelie houses. She’s discovered something of critical importance to her people, whose import she doesn’t understand and is travelling home when this part of the tale takes place. Once you’ve read it you’ll understand why I chose the image 🙂

I’d love your feedback on this, especially whether the action is interesting and if you think it would be something you’d read more of.

Cheers – link below

Dreams of Darkness WIP

The next steps to world domination

I may be overstating the level of ambition here.

Except I feel like that’s what I’m learning alongside my publisher, Alternative Realities. We’re talking every day at the moment about marketing, presence and how to push beyond the audience that already exists and create something larger.

To that end I’ve been persuaded that I need to offer people the chance to subscribe to an email list. I’m going to use it sparingly but I can see the sense. So this is me saying, if you fancy hearing about what I’m up to in the writing space, and occasionally the sword fighting space, since it’s MY website, then sign up.

I will also use this to offer excerpts to people of current WIP for comment, feedback and general discussion, so if you fancy getting your name in my stories or getting the chance to shape plot or characters then you should also sign up for that reason too.

Also, in case you hadn’t heard my debut novel came out a couple of weeks ago now. I’ve put up a free sample on Goodreads – so feel free to head on over there and pick it up if you haven’t already given it a go. There’s a tiny little spot on the left hand side under the cover that says ‘read book’ that has it for you.

ta for now


The first reviews

I’ve had my first reviews! From people who’ve actually read the book.

It turns out they enjoyed it – which is pretty amazing. So now I sit waiting for others to voice their opinions too, whether they like it or otherwise.

The dreaded bad review is probably inevitable, and then I’ll discover whether I have a thick enough skin. It’s all very well surviving rejection between agent/publisher and author – but that has the benefit of being in private and often being completely unemotional. Most rejection letters are barely more than a ‘thanks for coming in’.

However, in asking for reviews (and I’ve got a long list now of reviewers on Goodreads who are reviewing for me), you open yourself up to public comment. I have to say, that’s something I’ve avoided like the plague most of my life.

Mates and family reviews should (you know, they’re biased!) be favourable, even if they don’t really dig it, but strangers? Well, you’ve read the comments pages on newspapers, right?

So, as the blog tour starts tomorrow, I’m holding my breath again – hoping that reviews actually arrive in ANY form, but when they do they’re ok – for a given value of ok.

In the meantime, I’ve added a photo of Stuart, who is currently winning the best photo with the book. A reader called Bex is second with her shot of the book in a whisky distillery and on the RSS Discovery (not just any old boat as I was reminded just now). Can you get more bizarre/exotic?


A Family War – My Cover’s Here!

The cover’s arrived, the cover’s arrived!

So AR are just publishing a short blog on the cover for A Family War, but I thought I’d show it here too. A big shout out again for Lawrence Mann, who did the cover.

I’m really happy with this – it captures the sense of difference between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. The story is a thriller but it’s based in a world where the 1% really have taken it all.

Politics aside, Lawrence has managed to bring in the feel of the City that plays such a central role in the story, a place where everything man has built is on display. Yet it’s not all sweetness and light – the greatest crimes sometimes occur right out in the open.

AR are going to send the opening chapter out to people who’ve signed up to their newsletter, so get on over there and sign up!

Cheers all




Someone once said ‘don’t tell me about your craft. Tell me about your influences.’

We have to start with Martin Gilbert’s immense book on the Holocaust, simply called by that title. It’s this book that caused me to write Helena’s story. At nearly a thousand pages long it charts not simply the rise of the ‘final solution’ but also how it was enacted across Europe – not just Nazi Germany but among the Axis allies who continued to kill Jewish people even after the war was officially over.

My heart and head were both torn apart reading the history of such slaughter and the one question I couldn’t answer no matter how I asked it was how such a thing could come to pass.

I have read a lot of history of the period between the first and second world wars yet those accounts focus on the politics, the economics and the unfolding collapse of Europe’s great empires in the wake of WWI. They don’t address how one group of humans came to think of another as so far from having dignity and worth, as so alien, so other, that it wasn’t simply acceptable to treat them as rats but morally valuable.

I wanted to write a story in which that could happen – as an exercise in which I could explore how it might be that individuals could go along with such horrific ideas. You see the answer is not that people silently acquiesced – as with many forms of institutional despair – it’s that people actively play their parts because without that no organised form of oppression can survive.

On top of that I wanted to explore (as I often do) the idea of perfect worlds falling apart when it seems like nothing can assail them. I’m a massive fan of two books about how world views, whole cultures, can come apart at the seams and this was a perfect opportunity to pull them apart in the service of stories.

The first of these is Kuhn’s, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’. The second, far more revolutionary book, is Feyerabend’s ‘Against Method’. They both seek to describe and explain how our views about how the world works are built up and then overturned. Feyerabend in particular was a revelation for me as a younger man. Coincidentally, Kuhn is where we get the idea of a paradigm shift from – although it’s been bastardised by management consultants and means something much more fundamental in his scheme.

The third leg of influences on me once I’d begun thinking about the need to explore the sense of how a holocaust could happen came from an extended debate I was having with a friend of mine who was a professor of philosophy at the university where I did my post graduate work. We had talked for a long time about how one might devise a system of justice where everyone had equal opportunity (not wealth) without that becoming ossified and also acknowledging that each of us have our own peculiar talents. Obviously Rawls, Hayek, Nozick and Sandel played important benchmarks in that discussion, but then so too did Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavksy’s essential works on the five ways in which societies organise themselves (including the hermit there btw). From their work one could trace how different systems of justice might arise and then put people like Rawls (not to belittle his monumental efforts in any way) in their particular time and places.

The above are the fundamental philosophical underpinnings to Helena’s world and the journey she will travel. Yet why choose science fiction?

I couldn’t see that travelling back in time to a period before Nazi Germany made any sense. It felt ham fisted and without the nuance or profound impact of mass mechanisation. How could a medieval world compete with the industrial despair of the gas chamber?

So I dismissed fantasy for the same reason. Magic can too easily absolve the ordinary person from responsibility because they can point to the wizard who did it and claim that they could neither resist them nor could they be responsible. It had to be a world in which such events could only happen with the complicity of ordinary people (Normals if you wish). Which meant the future.

This fit neatly with my wish to explore what could lead to it happening again. I wanted clean tech though, like Geoff Ryman’s philosophical approach to Sci Fi, I only wanted tech that could be plausibly real. I wanted that feel of the actual world we know.

On top of Ryman I hoped to channel Clarke’s embryonic writings about AI. Artificial Intelligence plays a crucial role in the story and there are few nuanced writers out there who explore the deeper implications of such otherness. Clarke does so and nowhere more successfully than in 2001. An Intelligence that comes of age in a mental breakdown as it’s forced to reconcile two mutually exclusive sets of orders.

It wasn’t until long after I finished my first draft of this novel that I came across Adam Roberts, but if someone was ever to compare me favourably to his writing then I’d be a happy man…

Inspiration for covers and the roll of Pinterest

I’ve been using pinterest as my store of inspiration for covers. The cover for A Family War focusses on London, the City, as it’s called by those of us who live and work there both in Helena’s world and ours. I love the image by Jeremy Mann that I’ve used to headline my post. It’s glorious and a part of what I want to capture about the City in my story.
However, in working it through with Lawrence, we saw three others that helped set the tone.

The first is this one from the Art of Animation tumblr:

From the Art of Animation tumblr

We liked it because of the angle, the way that as an observer you’re not given to the normal flat view of the world, but are presented with an exploration of a strange place.

The second one we liked was this one:

Daniel Dociu

What is amazing about this piece is how it captures the light and how that process tells the story. The darkness and shadow around the bases of the buildings, the purity of the light at their pinnacles. Imagine a city of spires whose bases are shrouded and without sunlight and the dank foreground in this image sets that tone.

Finally this one:

mingrutu on Deviant Art

This brings the scale we love of grand cities down to the human. It picks up a story from the scale of the body and places it within the vastness of the cityscape.

All my pins are here if you fancy taking a look. It’s from this board that the cover is going to come.

Happy days!

A Family War

A Family War is going to be my first published novel. I have the fortune of seeing it published through the small press I’m involved in, Alternative Realities. The stages to go through are many, detailed and nerve wracking, but the editing, re-writes and proof-reading are all done. 

We’re at the stage of formatting the book itself – which the awesome Matthew Sylvester is handling. Alongside that I’m working with Lawrence Mann on the cover – something I’m very excited about as Lawrence has done some amazing work (just google his name on google images – pretty much safe for work in case you were wondering). Once that’s all done the book will be ready to go. It feels like the hard part will only then arrive; will people read it and how will I help it be more than a tiny drop of water in a massive ocean?

The story is a thriller set on Earth in the future – it’s science fiction but it’s not about the science, it’s about a woman who discovers the shiny, pretty world in which she has been living is based on the misery of those around her.

Think Bladerunner meets Schindler’s list.

I have a whole host of concerns, fears and hopes about the story finally reaching the world as a book but I’m confident the story works, that the world it exists in makes sense and provides a backdrop which is interesting and well paced. Yet, in the end, I know that writing a good story probably isn’t enough for a book to survive its birth, it isn’t all that’s necessary for a story to live and take on a life of its own. So as we approach the point where I have covers to reveal, dates to talk, prices to think of and publicity to fear I’ll talk more about it – hopefully it will feel less like such cliff edge under my feet!

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